Interindividual variability in sweat electrolyte concentration in marathoners

J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2016 Jul 29;13:31. doi: 10.1186/s12970-016-0141-z. eCollection 2016.


Background: Sodium (Na(+)) intake during exercise aims to replace the Na(+) lost by sweat to avoid electrolyte imbalances, especially in endurance disciplines. However, Na(+) needs can be very different among individuals because of the great inter-individual variability in sweat electrolyte concentration. The aim of this investigation was to determine sweat electrolyte concentration in a large group of marathoners.

Methods: A total of 157 experienced runners (141 men and 16 women) completed a marathon race (24.4 ± 3.6 °C and 27.7 ± 4.8 % of humidity). During the race, sweat samples were collected by using sweat patches placed on the runners' forearms. Sweat electrolyte concentration was measured by using photoelectric flame photometry.

Results: As a group, sweat Na(+) concentration was 42.9 ± 18.7 mmol·L(-1) (minimal-maximal value = 7.0-95.5 mmol·L(-1)), sweat Cl(-) concentration was 32.2 ± 15.6 mmol·L(-1) (7.3-90.6 mmol·L(-1)) and sweat K(+) concentration was 6.0 ± 0.9 mmol·L(-1) (3.1-8.0 mmol·L(-1)). Women presented lower sweat Na(+) (33.9 ± 12.1 vs 44.0 ± 19.1 mmol·L(-1); P = 0.04) and sweat Cl(-) concentrations (22.9 ± 10.5 vs 33.2 ± 15.8 mmol·L(-1); P = 0.01) than men. A 20 % of individuals presented a sweat Na(+) concentration higher than 60 mmol·L(-1) while this threshold was not surpassed by any female marathoner. Sweat electrolyte concentration did not correlate to sweat rate, age, body characteristics, experience or training. Although there was a significant correlation between sweat Na(+) concentration and running pace (r = 0.18; P = 0.03), this association was weak to interpret that sweat Na(+) concentration increased with running pace.

Conclusions: The inter-individual variability in sweat electrolyte concentration was not explained by any individual characteristics except for individual running pace and sex. An important portion (20 %) of marathoners might need special sodium intake recommendations due to their high sweat salt losses.

Keywords: Athletes; Exercise; Fluid balance; Hyponatremia; Osmolality; Sex.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Chlorides / analysis*
  • Drinking
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Osmolar Concentration
  • Physical Endurance / physiology
  • Running / physiology*
  • Sex Factors
  • Sodium / analysis*
  • Sweat / chemistry*
  • Sweating / physiology
  • Water-Electrolyte Balance / physiology


  • Chlorides
  • Sodium